You know that lovey-dovey feeling you get while cuddling with your significant other—when you forget all about how pissed you were that he came home late AND didn’t bring apology cheesecake, or how annoying it is that she always leaves little toothpaste ghosts in the bathroom sink?
That happy feeling is due to a release of oxytocin in the body. Often dubbed the “love hormone,” oxytocin has a little party in your brain during all kinds of stuff, from orgasm to giving birth, facilitating that loving, bonding feeling. And it can help you end a relationship fight in minutes.
For an experiment at Zurich University, researchers brought in 47 couples aged 20-50 who were either married or had lived together for at least a year. They gave the couples either five puffs of a placebo spray or five puffs of a spray containing oxytocin, asked the couple to choose a topic of conflict in their relationship, closed the door, and let them have at it for 45 minutes. Fun!
The researchers explained that generally, women tend to show demanding behavior more frequently, while men tend to withdraw. But something magical happened during those 45 minutes that couples spent arguing in a room. In addition to no homicides reported, the research, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, found that when couples had sniffed oxytocin instead of the placebo, women were less demanding and more friendly, and men were more positive and more likely to engage. “In our study, oxytocin might have driven quiescence in women and social salience and approach behaviour in men, ” the researchers said.
So what’s a couple to do until they can find oxytocin nasal spray at their local CVS? Well, women produce oxytocin while they’re lactating, so there’s that. Another way to go? Some relationship therapists recommend a cuddling time-out, which is probably the last thing you’ll want to do in the middle of the argument, but could be the best thing for your relationship. In his book, Communication Miracles for Couples, Jonathan Robinson calls it the “spoon tune.” Bring it up to your partner while things are conflict-free, and agree to try it next time you’re arguing. It sounds cheesy to call a spoon tune time-out, especially mid-fight, but you may just find that a lot of arguments feel less important after a few minutes of being the little spoon.
Robinson even suggests that you spoon standing up if you’re in a place where you can’t lie down, but if you’d rather not spoon your significant other during dinner with your boss, agree to shelve the issue until you’re home and alone. You can even sleep on it. Cuddle up at night after an argument and see if things look a little better in the morning—just keep in mind, this will require you to stifle the urge to angrily hog the covers all night. And of course, since oxytocin is released during orgasm, there’s always makeup sex (though you might as well take more than five minutes on that, while you’re at it). Thanks, science!